Book review: populist backlash could be good for democracy

Book review: The New Authoritarianism The populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process isn't such a bad thing, says Professor Salvatore Babones.

934-Reviews-nEW-authoritarianism-100

Trump, Populism and theTyranny of Experts

Polity Press (£9.99)

Buy on Amazon

The past few years have seen a populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process. Some view this as a return to the dark ages. Professor Salvatore Babones, of the University of Sydney, argues it isn't so bad. The backlash may even be healthy for democracy.

Large swathes of public life have been taken out of the hands of elected governments and given over to unelected technocrats. These technocrats accuse their populist opponents of being closet authoritarians, yet, as Babones argues, their own support for democracy is conditional on the public endorsing their preferred outcomes. When the public doesn't respond appropriately, by voting for the "wrong" policy or candidate, they either refuse to accept the outcome or use every means possible to undermine it. European governments pressed on with European integration, for example, despite the results of referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

This is not to endorse individual populist politicians, nor to dismiss liberalism. It's just that liberalism's dominance has been bad for it, because it has moved it from its traditional role of exerting a moderating influence on the excesses of both right and left. Babones's criticisms of the status quo may strike some as overwrought, but his monograph is an original and provocative contribution to the debate.

Recommended

My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes
Investment strategy

My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes

John Stepek recommends some of his favourite financial books for you to read as lockdowns continue, including a surprisingly gripping biography of the…
31 Dec 2020
Five books to put on your Christmas list
Investment strategy

Five books to put on your Christmas list

Even if they’ve done nothing else, lockdowns – in whatever guise – have given us plenty of time to read. Merryn Somerset Webb picks five books to enjo…
7 Dec 2020
Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up
Books

Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up

Whether you’re going on a staycation (or even an actual holiday) or remaining holed up at home. Merryn Somerset Webb has four perfect books to educate…
6 Jul 2020
Theatre review: The Visit
Films

Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020

Most Popular

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021
House prices

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021

Lockdown sent house prices berserk as cooped up home-workers fled for bigger properties in the country. And while they won’t rise quite as much this y…
18 Jan 2021
Inflation is the easiest way out of this – just don’t expect politicians to admit it
Inflation

Inflation is the easiest way out of this – just don’t expect politicians to admit it

The UK government borrowed £34.1bn in December, a record amount for that month. Britain's debt pile now amounts to 100% of GDP. How are we going to pa…
22 Jan 2021
When will the US stockmarket bubble burst?
US stockmarkets

When will the US stockmarket bubble burst?

With US stocks more expensive than before the Wall Street crash of 1929, there are growing signs of “mania”. But what will push markets over the edge?
22 Jan 2021